The Karolinska Institutet in Sweden has created, for the first time, the perception of being invisible.
Imagine looking down at yourself, and seeing nothing. That is essentially the effect that Swedish scientists have created, for the first time, using virtual reality headsets. Although we’re far from creating an invisibility cloak, this is still a pretty cool illusion.
In the study from Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet, a team of neuroscientists had 125 participants wearing head-mounted displays were asked to look down at their bodies. Rather than seeing themselves, they saw empty space.
To give the feeling of having an invisible body, scientists touched the participant’s bodies in various locations with a large paintbrush while, with another paintbrush held in the other hand, exactly imitating the movements in mid-air in full view of the participants.
“Within less than a minute, the majority of the participants started to transfer the sensation of touch to the portion of empty space where they saw the paintbrush move and experienced an invisible body in that position,” explained Arvid Guterstam, lead author from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.
The scientists conducted a series of experiments comparing the difference between scenarios with a ‘physical body’ and an ‘invisible body.’ Once of such experiments was focused around social anxiety in which the participant was place in front of an audience of strangers. Strangely enough, when the participant was experiencing the invisible body, physical response to stress was reduced. “We found that their heart rate and self-reported stress level during the ‘performance’ was lower when they experienced the invisible body illusion,” Guterstam noted.
The findings show that the difference in perception can have a direct connection with the physical reality of how our body reacts in certain situations. It will be interesting to see how these results may lead to ways in which we deal with certain problems like anxiety, and how this technology may soon play a role in clinical settings to treat such disorders.